Need hacks for a sharper mind?
Womenlines is delighted to share a guest post from a guest contributor Prachi Nain from Singapore who is sharing some interesting tools and rituals for a sharper mind-
As knowledge workers, most of us realize the importance of mental well-being. It’s not the lack of knowledge holding us back. The real challenge is fitting any new rituals into our tightly packed 24 hours.
Here are some easy-to-implement rituals followed by tools that’ll help you increase alertness and decrease distractions. I decided to stick to the ones that I have already integrated into my life, or I’m on the verge of doing so as they are strongly backed by science.
1) 4-7-8 breathing — Breathing at its best
Good ol’ breathing gets better with this simple technique:
- Exhale through your mouth while pursing your lips and making a ‘whoosh’ sound for 8 seconds.
- Breathe in through your nostrils for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- One cycle. Repeat for another 2-3 cycles.
It’s the simplest and fastest way to relax.
The surprising part is that you can summon the 4-7-8 techniques for better sleep at night as well as for mental sharpness before a big meeting! Its versatility blows away my mind:
- I practice 3 cycles of 4-7-8 right before work. It helps me focus and gather my thoughts better for writing.
- It’s a sleep-inducer for my chirpy kids at their bedtime.
- Athletes are known to practice it right before jumping into a game.
- It helps people suffering from anxiety, migraine, aggressive behaviour, asthma, and stress.
- I even use it to curb motion sickness on a long car ride.
Anytime day or night you need to beat stress, increase alertness, or induce sleep.
Breathe – 1 Minute Meditation (iOS)
4–7-8 Relax Breathing (Android)
2) Waking up in the morning — How to make it easier?
No one pops out of the bed energized. That feeling of drowsiness when you feel like dozing off again is a natural state of waking up. It’s called sleep inertia. Sometimes, it lasts a few mins. Mostly, it lasts less than 30 mins depending on your sleep cycles and sleep habits.
Combat your sleep inertia using the following tips and tools:
Don’t break your sleep cycle
In a typical night, there are 4-6 sleep cycles. Each cycle is ~1.5 hrs.
- 4 sleep cycles – 6 hrs of sleep
- 5 sleep cycles- 7.5 hrs of sleep
- 6 sleep cycles – 9 hrs of sleep
We should wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. I find 5 sleep cycles ideal.
If you’re unsure of your ideal sleep time, experiment by setting your alarm for 5 sleep cycles one week, and 6 the following week, and see what works best. Give yourself 15 mins of wind-down time to fall asleep.
Keep a consistent sleep and wake-up time, with 15 mins of flexibility at max. Otherwise, our body clock goes for a toss.
Let the light in
Sunlight (it’s the best) or exposure to any white light increases alertness in the mornings. If you like to wake up before sunrise, turn on your room lights.
If nothing else works, the following alarm clock is sure to make you (or your kids!) jump out of bed.
Clocky, the alarm clock with wheels
Clocky is the alarm clock you can’t snooze and go back to sleep. It’ll jump, run, or even hide to make you get up.
3) Cold water exposure — Jump start your day
Deliberate cold water exposure offers immense benefits to your brain. You can achieve this with ice baths, diving into a cold swimming pool (my favourite), or taking a cold shower.
Sudden exposure to cold releases at least two hormones in your brain and body, adrenaline and dopamine.
Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster and your lungs breathe more efficiently. You feel energized and ready to conquer the day ahead.
Dopamine is the feel-good hormone that increases attention and motivation. Using cold water exposure is one of the healthiest ways to get dopamine.
How cold should be the water?
‘Uncomfortably cold’ is the way to go!
You feel like getting out but it’s safe to stay. Uncomfortable is the key because that’s what leads to the release of hormones.
Jump in or take it slow?
Short answer — jump in.
Long answer — when you get into cold water, your body generates heat and makes a thin, protective thermal layer on your body. If you stay still, the thermal layer stays intact and you stay warmer. If you get moving, you break this layer and reap more benefits.
To get the most out of cold water exposure, jump in and get moving.
The first hour after you wake up for enhancing mental fitness.
Soon after a hard workout, run, sports, etc. for fast recovery.
4) Going to bed — How to do it right?
If you’re finding it extremely difficult to wake up every morning, it could be a lack of quality sleep or a sleep disorder. Please get yourself checked up to rule out any underlying conditions.
For most of us, the following changes during bedtime can make all the difference.
Don’t activate your grey cells
Hard mental work before sleep leads to mental stimulation, which makes it difficult to fall asleep. This includes checking work emails, brainstorming ideas, etc.
It’s also the worst time for kids to solve Math problems or learn new concepts.
Automate sleep mode
Make sure your phone notifications automatically turn off as soon as your bedtime starts. You don’t want the overhead to manually turn on sleep mode each night.
Say no to foods
It’s a bad idea to consume any food before sleeping, whether it’s a warm glass of milk or a midnight snack.
We should eat at least 3 hrs before hitting the bed. When that’s not possible for me or if I have a heavy meal, I go for a post-dinner walk for around 20-30 mins (~3000 steps).
Switch off devices
I bet you already knew this but don’t do it.
Enjoy a fiction book instead to fall off to sleep.
Forest — Keep distractions away
This app is for those who keep getting distracted by social media notifications, emails, and messages, so basically all of us.
It helps you stay focussed on one task at a time. What makes this app unique is its noble cause of planting trees !
Forest, the app that helps you stay focussed
When you need to focus on a task, open the app, select a virtual tree to grow, and start the timer (10 mins up to 120 mins). Get on with your task on your desktop and leave your phone alone.
If you can’t help looking at your phone screen, you’ll see smartly crafted messages like ‘Don’t look at me, ‘Leave me alone!’, ‘Go back to your work. All meant to keep digital distractions at bay.
Your virtual tree grows if you stick to the session. Over time, you can build an entire forest.
If you get distracted and use your phone for checking out your WhatsApp or responding to an email, your tree dies.
I know it’s a virtual tree but I still don’t want to be a tree killer. There must be many more who share the same sentiments. The app has millions of users!
More focused sessions mean more credits. You can use those to plant real trees! Forest works with a non-profit organization that helps farmers in South Africa by growing thousands of trees.
Todoist — Declutter your mind
This app is one of the best to-do list apps.
With the promise of ‘organizing all tasks’, what it really offers us is cognitive ease. Getting all those tasks out of your head frees up mental energy.
Todoist, a to-do list app
You can enter a task in seconds by typing the letter Q on the desktop or pressing the ‘+’ button on the iPhone app. It intelligently recognizes the details in the task as you type in, like due dates, tags, priority, etc.
The app also provides integration with voice assistance. Instead of typing in, you can tell Siri or Amazon Echo to add a task to your list.
Calm — Recharge your mind
Calm is a sleep-and-meditation app. It’s one of the most popular mindfulness apps. It provides access to a huge variety of zen content like bedtime stories, anxiety relief, sleeping better, reducing stress, teaching meditation, etc.
Calm, the sleep and meditation app
Although it provides a lot of guided meditations for all ages, I use its unguided meditation for 10–15 mins each day to catch a power nap in the afternoons.
Give yourself a 10–15 min break from work to deep breathe, meditate, or sleep. It helps your racing mind relax and recharges you to perform at your best.
Prachi Nain is a writer, marathoner, and mind geek She’s the creator of 10x your mind, a mental fitness newsletter with actionable insights on food, lifestyle, and decision-making.
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